Sweeping audits of high-rise buildings, new taskforces and a new reporting hub for suspected non-conforming products are among initiatives announced in the past week as authorities race to stop a Grenfell Tower-like fire from happening here.
Chair of the Building Ministers’ Forum and assistant minister for industry, innovation and science Craig Laundy this week announced the federal government, though the BMF, would work with state and territory governments to develop a national strategic response to address the risks associated with the non-compliant installation of building products.
Mr Laundy said prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had also asked premiers and chief ministers to urgently audit their high-rise buildings.
WA audit underway
One of the audits is currently underway in Western Australia, and has already identified a non-compliance issue.
The at-risk youth hostel, Foyer Oxford in Leederville, was found to contain non-compliant cladding.
Western Australian building commissioner Peter Gow said the state’s Building Commission was supporting owner Foundation Housing and the Department of Communities to ensure the building is made safe and compliant with Building Code of Australia requirements.
The new audit follows an earlier one that occurred immediately after the Lacrosse fire in Melbourne. The new, broadened scope includes all high-risk, high-rise buildings in WA that have cladding attached.
Permit authority certification records will be used to identify buildings that require further assessment.
“The Grenfell Tower fire has tragically reinforced the need to ensure buildings are safe and puts particular focus on refurbishments of old buildings,” Mr Gow said.
“The Building Commission is working with permit authorities across WA to assess whether the cladding on all high-risk, high-rise buildings meets the requirements of the Building Code of Australia.”
South Australia takes up the challenge
The South Australian government this week announced it will work with the City of Adelaide to undertake an audit of buildings in the state that may have aluminium composite cladding installed in a non-compliant way.
“Early last year I wrote to councils requesting they prioritise inspection of buildings suspected to have aluminium cladding, and to report any concerns,” SA attorney-general John Rau said.
“The London fire has impressed upon us the importance of ensuring these assessments have taken place.”
The audit will be led by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, with initial findings to be reported to the planning minister by the end of July 2017. The findings will confirm if further steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of these buildings.
Buildings found to contain ACP cladding will undergo a risk assessment and if deemed unsafe, cladding may need to be removed and fire prevention features enhanced, Mr Rau said.
An accelerated audit process of city buildings is to be carried out in Adelaide, and there will be assistance from DPTI for other local councils outside the CBD to undertake audits if required.
“The audits will give us confidence that building regulations have been adhered to, and enable us to mandate upgrades where necessary.”
Victoria has also swung into action, appointing a taskforce to investigate non-compliant cladding.
Mr Laundy said there needed to be an emphasis by state and territory regulators across the country to stamp out any non-compliant installation of building products.
“It’s essential that all governments work together to make sure our builders not only have the right products to do their job, but are also using the right products for the job, to ensure we can provide continued confidence in Australia’s built environment,” Mr Laundy said.
“I want to assure the public that the Australian Government will continue to encourage the states and territories to work with us to improve their compliance regimes to prevent further instances of non-compliant wall cladding impacting the safety of Australia’s high-rise buildings.”
The Building Ministers’ Forum also announced it would commission an expert report to examine the broad compliance and enforcement problems within the building and construction sector.
NSW gets tougher on fire safety and building certification
In NSW, new building regulation and certification reforms were released this week. The changes take effect from 1 October this year, and are in response to the Lambert Review of the Building Professionals Act of 2005.
Changes taking effect from October 1 2017 include improvements to fire safety requirements for new and existing buildings.
Key elements include a requirement that competent fire safety practitioners be involved for specific functions, and that certification for practitioners will eventually be required.
Plans and specifications for complex fire safety systems will need to be submitted to the relevant certifying authority before installation, and there will be new and changed requirements for documenting, endorsing and checking performance or alternative solution fire safety designs.
Critical stage inspections will be introduced that will specifically target multi-residential and other buildings where people sleep, and the NSW Fire and Rescue will have inspection powers for multi-residential buildings.
Assessment of the ongoing performance of essential fire safety measures will have to be undertaken by competent fire safety practitioners.
Other changes ahead include replacing the Building Professionals Act 2005 with a new Building and Development Certifiers Act to strengthen requirements relating to the accreditation, investigation, auditing and disciplining of certifying authorities.
A draft exposure bill is expected to be put on public exhibition in late 2017 with the final bill introduced to parliament following a review of submissions.
ABCB launches information and reporting hub
The Australian Building Codes Board last week launched an information hub on its website that enables reporting of suspected non-conforming products. It directs the reports to the relevant state or territory body for further action under the state’s specific legislation.
There is a major distinction between non-conforming products and the non-compliant use of a product, general manager of the Australian Building Codes Board Neil Savery said.
Non-conforming products are those that purport to be something they are not and are marketed or supplied with the intent to deceive those who intend using it. This is primarily a consumer affairs type of issue, Mr Savery said.
Mr Savery said that anyone who suspects a non-conforming product is being installed should report it.
Non-compliant work is primarily a practitioner issue, and is a matter for building regulators, he said.
It is not just cladding that can be flawed in a building. For example, the Cyclone Testing Station at James Cook University found that many roof tie downs installed on buildings in cyclone zones in Queensland were not necessarily compliant with code requirements.
Another example is the April 2017 inspection of plumbing installations by the Victorian Building Authority.
Not only was non-compliant work identified in around one in five gas or plumbing installations, one of the most common defects was minimum clearances between rangehoods, ductwork or combustible surfaces not meeting the required standard for safe distance from the top of a gas flame on a stove hob.
All of the installations had been signed off on and Compliance Certificates issued.
The 2014 Pitt & Sherry report also showed the degree to which many residential buildings are not meeting the required energy efficiency standards.
Mr Savery said there were a number of actions the ABCB is engaged in to help address non-compliance.
They include looking at the wording of the relevant provisions of the NCC to ensure they are clear and concise.
A new verification methodology AS5113 for fire propagation testing and classification of external walls of building products used in projects taking the performance solution pathway has been published along with a national advisory note on external wall claddings and assemblies.
The board has also provided advice to the Building Ministers Forum as it moves to ensure there is a national approach to the issues, including how buildings are audited and the effectiveness of compliance systems.